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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
n more than one occasion I’ve seen “Louie” described as depressing, and if it’s said by more than two people, maybe there’s some truth to it. I like to think of it as more along the lines of uncomfortable, but any way you slice it, it probably isn’t the kind of show destined for marathon viewings. Two or three episodes in a row are plenty for one day. But therein lies some of its genius, as this is a thinking person’s comedy series, and rarely does it aim for disposable “yuk yuk” laughs.
Louis C.K. tried series television once before with “Lucky Louie” on HBO, a series that’s as different from this one as “Full House” is from “Arrested Development.” That show was canceled after only one season, but if C.K. keeps doing on FX what he he’s doing here, this one could go on for years. Outside of the central character being a stand-up comic and a divorced father of two daughters, there is no solid premise to the show, so there isn’t really anything to wear out over the long haul. Each episode features one or two ideas that C.K. describes as “stuff that doesn’t fit into my [stage] show.” Occasionally these ideas stem from him being divorced or a comic or a single dad, but mostly they just emerge from him being a middle-aged man fraught with insecurity. The show is brutally honest and there are episodes that cross over into dramatic territory by not actually being funny at all. That’s not to imply that the jokes fall flat, just that the material goes into too dark an area to even be considered comedy in these moments.
Case in point is the episode “Bully,” in which Louie goes out with a girl, only to find himself threatened by a high school football jock at a donut shop in front of his date. Then the kid degrades Louie by forcing him to plead to the kid to not kick his ass, which he does, and once the kid leaves, his date admits that although she didn’t actually expect him to get in a fight, the entire incident was a massive turn off for her. There’s so much truth in the episode that it hurts, and when the series is firing on these cylinders, it’s something of a TV marvel.
Now, this isn’t to say the show isn’t funny. There are plenty of laughs to be found here, most obviously in Louie’s monologues at the Comedy Cellar, which pop up a couple times in each episode, à la “Seinfeld.” One of my favorite bits of the season: “It’s easy to have the body you want – you just have to want a really shitty body.” But the monologues are about the only places this series serves up one-liners, since the rest of the show is about mining black humor from the uncomfortable situations Louie finds himself in. It’s a sitcom in the truest sense of the word, but unlike any other sitcom you’ve ever seen due to C.K.’s sensibilities, which are unique to say the least.
Whether he’s getting high for the first time in 20 years with a borderline sociopathic neighbor, doing a show in Alabama and finding himself cornered by a local cop, or being shit-talked to by his doctor (played by Ricky Gervais), the show has the power of surprise on its side, and each episode offers up some point of view that’s new and worthy. Wait until you get to the episode with the naked woman across the hall, or the episode “God,” which might just be scarier than “The Exorcist.” I was going to say that it’ll put the fear of God into you, but then I figured that maybe that should go without saying.
Special Features: 11 of the 13 episodes feature C.K. doing solo commentaries. This sounds like it could be a laugh riot, but they turn out to mostly be of the dry “And this is how we did this scene” variety. Still, this is somewhat understandable given that C.K. write and directs the series himself, so naturally he would want to talk about all the work that goes into making it. There’s also a half hour’s worth of deleted and extended material with introductions by C.K. and a brief Fox Movie Channel publicity puff piece called “Writer’s Draft,” which is basically just a short interview with C.K.